Monday, April 30, 2007

National Poetry Month

I should have gotten on this sooner, but April was National Poetry Month. The American Academy of Poets has been sending me a poem a day for the whole month, and many different activities have taken place around the country. The academy does not limit itself to American poets only, so all sorts of poems from many different eras have been honored. In honor of the occasion and also the weather, here is the first part (the whole thing is five pages long) of one of my favorite poems by Pablo Neruda:

Ode to Spring

you will arrive
unnoticed -
here you come now -
the merest
flit of a wing, a kiss
of flower-scented mist.
can feel it,
and horses.
The wind
delivers a green letter
for all the tress to read
and the leaves
a first peek,
a fresh look at things.
They're sure:
everything is ready-
the ancient, uncontestable sun,
and talking water,

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Joys of Vancouver B.C.

As I mentioned in a previous post, M and I recently got to spend the weekend in Vancouver B.C. Having another country on your doorstep is a very nice thing indeed because it means that international travel can be accomplished without much effort. Granted, western Canada is quite similar in many ways to our own country (this makes it like international travel with training wheels), but there are still many reasons to head north. Here are a few things we enjoyed:

--- Kimpton hotels have a great sense of style, and they are a good value. The Vancouver one is no exception.

--- Robson Street was all kinds of fun with all the fancy shops selling silly fashions. We didn't buy anything other than chocolate and allergy medication, but we had a great time looking.

--- Taking a water taxi to Granville Island was entirely worth the walk from the hotel. M and I seem to have a habit of water taxis whenever we go on vacation. The market on Granville Island is like Pike Place only better. We ate all sorts of tasty food, and wished we could have taken much more home with us. Oh yes, and M bought a Smurf, but you'll have to ask him about that.

--- Blenz coffee shops may or may not be good for coffee (I didn't have any), but they do have a variety of tea lattes beyond the usual chai. I had a Royal Tea (Earl Gray and Vanilla), and a Princess Tea (some sort of black tea with a hint of rose), and they were both delicious. If only Starbucks could take a hint.

--- Saturday dinner was a very good one at an Indian place along Robson (name? Taste of India?) and then we walked up to a dessert place as well. It must have been 11pm by the time we arrived, but the place was hopping, and we actually had to wait a few minutes for a table. The desserts were plentiful, unique, and delicious. I had strawberry/rhubarb pie which tastes like spring to me, and they also had a nice array of teas and coffee drinks. Why can't we have one of these on the East Side?!

I'm leaving out all sorts of bits and pieces, but those were some of the major points. The problem with Vancouver is that we always go for just the weekend, and it is never enough time. On the next visit we really need to try the area around the university among other places. We just have to make sure to go again before the Olympics (2010) furor begins in earnest. At that point, I wouldn't want to be within 100 miles of that city.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Stressing Out Young Minds

It's time once again to administer that fun, fun test mandated by our state. In order to avoid trouble, I will refrain calling it by name, but if you are at all familiar with public schools in Washington State, you know which one I mean. There are six sections of the wicked thing, and it just seems to go on forever. In reality, of course, it only lasts two weeks, but we are still exhausted by the time we finally reach the word STOP in our test booklets.

This year, the stress and excitement were made all the more interesting by certain errors in the testing instructions. Of course, I will not (and cannot on pain of lawsuit) go into the details, but let's just say that some non-essential portions of the directions were a bit lacking in the editing department. It got to the point where there were so many reported errors that they started to release erratum for the remaining sections.

Now many people would be quick to point out that I am not exactly the queen of great editing myself. However, I am not claiming to be a professional writer, and I am not getting paid millions of dollars to deliver perfect text. How the heck can these kinds of errors get past an entire firm of professional writers AND a whole bank of state officials? My middle-schoolers found them in about ten seconds.

For all my complaining, I can understand the logic behind standardized tests. We need to know how we're doing as a whole, we need to know how our kids are doing compared to other kids their age, and we need some feedback on each kid to get an idea of how they are progressing. It's just that I really feel for them when they are in the middle of the actual testing. Some are quite nonchalant and easy going about it all, but many feel the strain, and a few even show signs of serious anxiety.

This week I gave them chocolate meringues during testing breaks, and we always play a few relaxing games when the tests are over. I always try to remind them that this is only a small portion of their year, and it will soon be over. More than anything, I don't want the testing experience to ruin their impression of school as a whole. Most kids at our school are pretty involved and engaged in the work we do (amazing but actually true), and I wouldn't want that to change just because they had to find out officially how much they know about order of operations or comprehension of literary devices.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Miss Potter

During my break, C and I had the chance to grab lunch and a movie during the middle of the day. It seemed very decadent, and we certainly had a good time. I was actually doubly happy for the chance because the movie, "Miss Potter," was gone from cinemas once, and had returned to just one Eastside theater. This seemed like my one and only chance to see it before it went away entirely.

This movie was not easy to catch because it played almost no where for only a few weeks. Rotten Tomatoes did not even give it a score until it had been out for quite a while. I guess the life of Beatrix Potter just doesn't grab the attention of many Americans, even if it does feature Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. No matter what critics or audiences thought, I enjoyed the movie.

I remember having seen or read the biography of Potter sometime during my teens, so as I watched the story unfold it did seem vaguely familiar. The portrayal of Miss Potter as a bored and sheltered young woman who uses art to entertain herself made a lot of sense. What did not work well at all, though, was the use of animation. Every so often, one of her drawings or something around her would come to life in a strange way. There was probably a total of about two minutes of animation in the whole movie, but it was jarring and silly instead of being endearing. I think this, more than anything, may have killed the movie's chances for a bigger splash at the box office.

Nevertheless, it is, as I said, a sweet little biopic. It's worth the charm of the two main characters, it's worth the beautiful scenes of the Lake District, and it's definitely worth the reminders of those odd, charming little stories we all read as children. Who could forget Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle Duck, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, or The Fierce Bad Rabbit? In the end, I think women will like this movie well enough, but I would suggest that most men take a pass and see something with explosions instead.

Monday, April 23, 2007

May the Photons Be with You

A combination of circumstances caused me to ride the Trailways bus to Vancouver last weekend. I haven't ridden a bus (other than a city one of course) for many years, so I was a little uncertain of what to expect. I was actually having all sorts of uncharitable, elitist thoughts about the other possible passengers. Then I thought I was being unfair, and perhaps my stereotypes about bus riders were unjust. As it turned out, my stereotyping was a near-perfect vision of the actual trip.

Luckily, my friend C (a seasoned bus rider) was traveling up with me, so we arrived at the station all cheerful about the prospect of a relaxing ride in the afternoon sun. At the appointed time we got on the bus, and I was happy to see that it was clean and comfortable, and that none of the other passengers had problems with personal grooming. Then, two more people got on board. The first had a large dog on a leash. The second was a classic hippie with dreads and a wide array of interesting jewelry. The hippie plopped down in her seat, and promptly reclined it as far as it would go. This meant that her head was just about in C's lap. It became instantly clear that hair washing was just not one of her priorities; the aroma of hair was going to be with us for the entire trip.

Fortunately, we left on time, we did not encounter much traffic, and we did have a chance to chat quietly all the way up to the Canadian boarder. At the boarder we got off the bus, lined up in the building, and waited for our turn with an official. Mine had very little interest in me, and I was through almost as quickly as C who is a Canadian citizen. In fact, the entire bus seemed to be moving through at a good clip. We all got back on the bus and watched through the window as the last few people made their way through.

The final two people came up to have their turn and... they did not fly through like the rest of us. In the end, Man-with-dog, and another man both had to go back into interview rooms. We waited. The bus driver turned on the bus and attempted to air-condition us to death. We waited some more. Finally, Man-with-no-dog came out and got on the bus. We waited. After about 45(?) minutes, Man-with-dog appeared. "It's not about this dog, but another one I had five years ago. I'll tell you the story if you want to hear it." No one took him up on the offer.

Wheew! We were off again! Now the hippie-woman in front started to chat with us. She started out with a fairly normal story about a tent and a trip to Australia. From there we moved on to some boarder crossings she'd done, and to her opinion of French, American, and Canadian politics. Up until this point most things still made sense. She was obviously not a stupid person, and she really did seem sweet in many ways. However, the whacko ideas soon began to emerge.
I cannot remember which idea came first, and I'm sure to forget whole pieces, but here are some of the highlights:

--- The Earth is currently traveling through the Photon Belt. This means that we are being bathed in photon particles that are emitted from the center of the universe. As the sun reflects them back onto us, we gain light and good, happy vibrations. The power of the cosmic night through which we have traveled for thirteen thousand years is lifted. Our density and darkness are decreased because sad things leave us.

--- The aboriginal people are dreaming about the things to come. They dream about the year 2012 when something major will happen. They prepare to transport themselves into another realm through positive vibration. The Mayans knew how to do this, and that is why we can't find their bones.

--- The power of gravity is on the wane. This means that our brain's capacity to produce certain chemicals is altered. All happy, easy-going people will feel more and more stoned as this process occurs. All the happy people will need to look after each other and make sure that everyone eats. However, all the unhappy people will get more and more psychotic. We happy people may have to be prepared to hold hands, jump up in the air, vibrate happiness, and land on another earth without the bad people.

--- The I Ching (Nitpickers I don't want to hear about the alternate spellings. There are many.) can have been analyzed using really serious science. "They" found all sorts of patterns in human society, and the year 2012 will be a very happy new beginning. "They" discovered this independently of the dreamers and the Mayans.

--- This is all a pack of lies, but we are not prepared to know the truth, so the lies are there to condition our minds. In the first book of this really good series, they tell that it is all lies, but she did not happen to read that book. She also enjoyed the book Ishmael which was about a gorilla.

I just kept thinking "must not smile! Must not smile! Laughing will follow!" and C told me after the fact that she had to rearrange her water bottle a few times. This lady was so sincere, and she had some little chopped up bits of actual science thrown in, so we didn't want to make her feel badly about her crazy ideas. The one thing I can say for this bus ride is that it was not remotely boring. Just be sure you are ready to vibrate when the time comes.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Stupid News for a Reason

Many people have marveled about our news watching priorities of late. Why do we pay so much attention to Senjaya, the real father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby, and German polar bears? Are we really that shallow? Do we have such a ridiculous sense of what is important? There are certainly bigger, more important, more serious stories out there, but they get little play in comparison.

I agree whole-heartedly that we ARE too obsessed with celebrity, and I also agree that we DO need a clear and balanced (not Fox) understanding of the news. However, I also think we need to cut people a little slack especially right now. The big important stories in the news are almost universally sad. If you spend too much time thinking about them, Virginia, Iraq, and news from Washington D.C. will get you down to the point that you might not be able to get out of bed. A little "fluffy" news seems like a relief in comparison. Excuse me; I have to go check to see if Brittany is wearing panties today.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Government Should Abstain from Abstinence

You know that old line from the song "Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it." Well, surprise, surprise, teenagers also do it. In fact, they do it even if they've been through a federally funded abstinence program. They do it just as much, they have just as many partners, and they start doing it at the same age as those who never had any training. In short, abstinence training does, to borrow from the late, grate Mr. Vonnegut, DIDDLY SQUAT. All this information comes from a congressionally ordered study on the effects of abstinence programs. The Monkey Butt administration reminds us not make any "sweeping generalizations" about these findings because the program delivery, not the message, is probably at fault. Yeah right, and I'm the queen of the Amazons. Now perhaps we could look into a similar study on the efficacy of the DARE program.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Hot Not Crossed Buns

I'm a fraud. I admit it. I'm emphatically not a Christian, I was not even raised as a Christian, but there are still some Christian traditions I enjoy. Easter is a big one.

As a child, Easter was one of those holidays that made your tummy jump just thinking about it. Oh the anticipation! My brothers and I would get up extra early and creep (no wait, we never crept anywhere, we actually ran around like a heard of cows) downstairs to find our baskets.

Our Easter Bunny did not go for those icky store-bought ones either (lots of grass, not many goodies). Instead we got baskets that were made especially for our tastes (low grass, high goody). There was always a toy involved (animals-themed for me, trucks for The Younger, weird science things for The Elder), and then there was the candy. Keep in mind that candy was not normally allowed all that much at our house. There was always chocolate (often in bunny form) and there were always jelly beans, but there were also malted milk balls, robin’s eggs, mallow eggs, gumdrops, and so much more. It was almost as good as Christmas.

For some odd reason, my mom always insisted that we eat actual food as well. This was really not a hard sell because Easter brunch was always a treat in itself. The menu varied, but it was always tasty, and it did prevent us from sobbing on the lawn (you'll have to ask Elder Brother about that one) from all that sugar. Every year my Auntie D would be there to cook part of the Easter brunch, and some lucky years she would make one of my favorites, Hot Crossed Buns.

Pretty much everything I know about cooking I learned from my mom, but Auntie D was the baker. She didn't just make the occasional plate of cookies; she baked all sorts of wonderful things. Her milk dough recipe could be modified to make cinnamon roles (a Christmas favorite) or Hot Crossed Buns. I did my absolute best, the other day, to make my dough just the way she showed me. The buns turned out beautifully (if I do say so myself) fluffy, and spicy, and studded with raisins.

There was, however, one problem with them. The buns could tell that I'm a fraud about Easter. When I went to "cross" them with icing, I COULD NOT do it. The icing literally refused to stay on the bun. No matter how I tried, the cross would just slide off the top. I think this is clear proof of something (my icing isn't thick enough?) but I'm just not sure what.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Vonnegut Forever! Hi Ho!

The Great Wampeter of our karass is gone. Our saint, our hero, has left us to better understand the lies of Bokonon. Busy, busy, busy. No more foma. No more granfalloons. Kurt Vonnegut is dead, dead, dead. So it goes. Perhaps he has become unstuck in time, and is now visiting his childhood, or rolling on the floor with some of his favorite dogs.

How can you really say goodbye to someone like Kurt Vonnegut? If you've read his work (see above for examples), you know what all the fuss is about. If you haven't read it, well, it's not going to be easy to describe. Some people say that Vonnegut was the Mark Twain of the 20th century because, like Twain, he used humor and wit to shed light on some of the less savory parts of our national (and sometimes international) culture. This is how you end up with books like Slaughterhouse Five where the horrors of WWII Dresden are interwoven with a story of time travel, aliens, and a porn star. You would think this combination would never work, but the results are incredible. Vonnegut always comes back to the point that some things are so terrible you can only find the absurdity in them.

I credit, or perhaps blame, Vonnegut's work for helping to shape my world view. He was a secular humanist, a liberal, and a peace activist, and all of these ideas were very much present in his novels. As a teenager I inhaled his books with great enthusiasm because they talked about real issues in a way that was completely fresh and unusual. Who would have thought that great literature could be so funny, surprising, and completely engrossing? Billy Pilgrim, Bokonon, Daffodil 11, and Kilgore Trout make for some odd teachers, but their lessons are certainly unforgettable. Therefore, God bless you Mr. Vonnegut, wherever you are. I hope that everything there is beautiful and nothing hurts. So it goes.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Biking Against My Will Part 2

Now it's time to return to the story of how I had ten years scared off my life by going on a short little bike ride with my brother. If you're still with me by the end, then good on you :)

For a while we were just riding through neighborhoods (with only one dodgy moment), and then we were on a nice safe bike path. This was all fine, and I can absolutely see why so many bicyclists are so thrilled to live anywhere near an official path. Comparatively speaking they're so wonderfully protected from cars, and you don't hardly have to worry about driveways or speed bumps or dogs or semi-trucks turning out of shipyards (don't ask). After a while, I actually started to relax and chat with the family. However, the bit on the bike path did not last long, and soon we were on a surface street again.

Not just any surface street. More like a main thoroughfare in an industrial part of town. Granted, this road did have its very own bike lane, but that didn't help too much when you consider that most of the traffic on the road was huge trucks. A standard size car does not fill a lane, so when near a bicycle they can simply hug the center stripe. A big truck does not have this option since it fills the lane entirely. This led to one of two strategies on the part of the truckers. Either swerve out into on-coming traffic (lots of honking and excitement) or ignore the bikes and pass within a few feet of them (people on bikes nearly fall of from the wind and the terror). My brother and his friends (oh they appeared at some point, but I was petrified to notice) seemed unconcerned about the situation, but Big Niece and I were pretty much white with concern.

Eventually we left the industrial neighborhood. You would think that would be a relief, but since we'd traded trucks for the thick traffic of downtown Seattle on a Friday evening, we were still pretty much on edge. Add to all that the fact that there are NO BIKE LANES around there, and it was (amazingly) even more frightening than before. You have to just ride in a lane with the cars and hope it all turns out okay. I was literally vying with busses for space. Taxis and other cars cut us off on purpose. I do have to say that this is incredible exercise because you don't dare stop for a rest. The light is turning green so PEDDLE FOR ALL YOU'RE WORTH! You can see why the automatic bike was such a good idea.

After a while we made our way to the gathering place for the official ride. I felt like I'd been through the fire already, but really we hadn't even begun. Big Niece was also looking peaked, so we sort of huddled together and made fun of the other bicyclists (hey, I never said I was a GOOD influence) who'd gathered. Then, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a chocolate shop. It is a well-known fact that one of the best things for strained nerves is chocolate. We dropped our bikes with Elder Brother, and made a beeline for the goodies. The ladies in the shop were quite horrified by our attire (helmets and sweat), but they were (thankfully) still able to sell us orange bon bons.

Thus fortified by chocolate, we gathered our bikes and joined "the circling" as Elder Brother called it. Just as I was mounting up, I saw my first really bad reaction to Critical Mass. A man who looked like a bike commuter (button up shirt, slacks, backpack, serious bike) was slowly crossing the square to join the throngs. A pedestrian suddenly reached out just as the bike passed and gave the hardest possible shove to the bicyclist. There was absolutely no provocation. Great! now I had something other than cars to be anxious about! Luckily, the victim had excellent sense of balance (and self control for that matter) because he swerved a bit and then righted himself without falling over (or swinging around to beat up the shover).

I must confess that once critical mass gets going you actually feel safer than before. The huge group works to shield most of the crowd from trouble, and the only real risk is from the press of bikes around you. The response of the people on sidewalks and in cars is quite surprising. I would say roughly one third just don't have any idea what to make of three hundred bikes taking over a street in downtown. The stare, literally with mouths open, as the crowd passes. You can almost see the tourists mentally filing away the story to tell back home.

About another third are royally, rabidly pissed off by the disruption. My poor sister-in-law got a nasty stream of abuse from one woman who did not like having to wait at an intersection. Cars do sometimes try to rush the mob hoping to make the bikes scatter, and those people who use their bikes to "cap" intersections really are taking a personal risk. The struggle for me is that I can understand why some of these people are upset. They were going along, following the rules, and suddenly things change on them. Nevertheless, that is no excuse for rudeness or hostility.

The last third are in love with the idea of all those bikes. They wave, they whistle, they lean out of their cars to take pictures. It's kind of a strange feeling to be delighting, confusing, and enraging people all in one go, but there you are. I guess I should just be glad that somebody is happy.

After riding just part of the route Elder Brother realized that his girls were all feeling like noodles. We left the main group, and headed back along the route we'd taken before. Since a few hours had passed by this point, the traffic was not nearly so bad, and the ride home was practically calm. Two of us did resort to walking up the last few hills, but we felt we'd earned a little wispiness. Upon reaching the house, both nieces and I agreed on three things:

1. That was scary (Small Niece did want to mention that it was fun too in her opinion)
2. That our bottoms were "mashed to mush"
3. That we needed lots of tasty food, and we needed it immediately

Elder Brother and his wife went off to a grown-up birthday party with his friends. The nieces and I went off to Whole Foods and then my house for a large dinner and a sleepover. No one got up early the next morning.

Critical Mass is certainly an experience. I can't say I agree with the law-breaking part of events, but I can certainly see why they want to make their point. Would I ever want to ride it again? Probably not, but at least I can now say that I've ridden my bike all the way down Spring street without stopping for anything. Yikes!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Biking Against My Will Part 1

Oh the things we do for love. Familial love in this case. My older brother rarely makes much sense to me, but I am very fond of him. Therefore, when he asked us all for just one thing for his birthday, we wanted to do what we could. However, that one thing proved to be much more complicated than I had expected. What he wanted was for all the family to ride Critical Mass with him.

For those who are not familiar, Critical Mass is a weekly bike ride that has gatherings in cities all around the country. The basic idea is that bike riders should forcefully remind the rest of the population that they too are allowed on the road and deserving of respect. To do this, cyclists will gather in a pre-planned location, and then ride around a very busy area en masse ignoring traffic signals, filling streets, and generally pissing off a lot of people.

Now, I am not the kind of person who willingly takes physical risks for fun. I am also not the kind of person who usually breaks rules. As you can see, going on this ride was more than a little conflicting for me. However, as I mentioned before, it was the only thing Elder Brother wanted, so I felt I had to participate. I swallowed my fear (and some of my moral code) and headed over to his house.

Fortunately I was able to borrow a bike from his extensive collection since mine does not fit in my car. Knowing me as he does, Elder Brother actually chose to lend me an automatic bike. I am not making this up. He actually gave me a 10 (?) speed bike that shifted its own gears. This is lucky because it turns out that paralyzing fear would have made it difficult for me to do this shifting on my own. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

When Elder Brother said he wanted the family to go on this ride, he wasn't kidding. Big Niece, Small Niece, and my sister-in-law were also planning to ride. All but Small Niece were feeling just like I was: conflicted. Small Niece has a disturbing lack of fear and is truly up for anything, so she was running around in her underpants grinning like, well, like herself when she's really thrilled.

Big Niece, on the other hand, was sitting in a chair looking like a rain cloud. When I asked her what was the matter she said that she didn't like the way some people don't wear helmets on these rides ("amen!" I thought), and she doesn't like the way people break the rules on these rides (again "amen!"), and she was worried that her pant leg might get caught in the chain ("oh crap what about my pant leg!" I thought). She seemed quite delighted when I admitted to having some of the same concerns. We then found a soccer sock to pull up over her pant leg, and then she actually brightened up enough that we could all head out.

We ALL put on our helmets (Big Niece would not have allowed us to do otherwise), we pulled up our soccer socks, and we got on our bikes. As we took off we looked like this. First me, trying to shake the cramp out of my hip because my bike was a bit too tall. Then Sister-in-law wobbling along trying to get the hang of her manual gear bike. Next was Elder Brother on the first seat of a tandem bike (and doing all the work). Behind him was Big Niece on the second seat of the tandem (still looking pretty anxious), and finally on the half bike attached to the tandem was Small Niece still smiling like a loony. We were off.

Friday, April 06, 2007


Well praise the sun, and pass the margarita! The kids are gone and we're on vacation!

In truth, I don't even like margaritas, but it does sort of capture the mood. All the teachers are practically skipping around the halls getting ready to leave. This is one of the profoundly good perks of this job. Add that it's sunny and 75 outside and we are extra cheerful. Don't call early on Monday morning because I'll be sleeping in.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

My Addiction

Every year my doctor requires a fasting blood draw (I guess she thinks I have interesting blood), and last week it was time once again to go under the needle. I don't really mind the sharp pointy part, but what I do mind is the fasting. I couldn't get an appointment until 10am, so I actually had to face the fact that there was not going to be any breakfast. Now I know what you may be thinking "I never eat breakfast! What's the big deal?" Or possibly "I never eat breakfast before 11am! What's the big deal?" The big deal is that I am very much a creature of habit. Doing things in a set way helps me to avoid forgetting important steps. Therefore, I always eat something before the day starts, and I (perhaps more importantly) I always have my cup of tea before doing anything remotely challenging.

This may, of course, be a caffeine addiction plain and simple. Comparatively speaking, there is not much caffeine in a single cup of black tea (or so I read), but perhaps it is enough to get my brain hooked. Either way, I was really feeling the lack as I got in my car to head down to the lab. My eyes felt dry, my stomach was very much empty, and I just didn't feel my usual self. I got down to my office, waited my turn, got the jab, and left the office all in a sort of daze (I'm not sure I should be driving on no breakfast). Then, oh wonder of wonders, I found a Tully's Coffee. An orange mocha and a raspberry oat bar never looked so good! That wonderful, steamy aroma! Remind me never to join one of those religions that requires fasting. I would never make it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Greener Cars

I, like so many other Americans, love my car. I am constantly delighted by the fact that my very own car is out there in the garage, ready to go at any moment. I don't have to share, I don't have to wait for a scheduled stop, I don't have to get up extra early, I don't have to expose myself to the elements, or arrive sweaty and dirty. I am in control. I love these features, and I don't want lose them. In fact, my only concession to greener transportation practices, living four miles from my job, is pretty much accidental. In short, I am a bad person, and chances are, so are you.

After all, Automobile emissions are one of the worst forms of pollution, and they are major contributors of global warming, acid rain, and any number of other problems. Cars also represent an economic peril because of the trade imbalance surrounding the international crude oil market. Did I mention the political ramifications? We all know this stuff, but we are still unwilling to get out of our cars to combat the problem. I am in complete awe of those who park their cars in favor of bikes, busses, and other forms of alternative transport. Still, I represent the majority by sticking with my SOV. Given all of this, perhaps the best answer to the car question is to change the cars themselves. Two possible answers are coming soon car dealers near you.

The first is the eminently green, but not very thrilling Honda GX. This little car is not a hybrid like so many of the other eco cars out there. Instead, it runs entirely on natural gas. That's right, the stuff that so many of us have in our houses for heating and cooking is now a car fuel as well. A massive tank in the rear portion of the car (say goodbye to trunk space) holds the gas under pressure. With a few extra purchases, you can even fill your car from your home gas line. Emissions are so low they had to create a new class just for this car. There are only three disadvantages. First, on a home system it takes TWENTY HOURS to fill the tank, and a full tank will only take you about 250 miles. Second, it costs nearly $16k more than a standard Honda. Third, and most damning in my view, it does zero to sixty in a sloth-like 10.8 seconds. Driving this car must be a lot like martyring yourself for the cause.

The second option is a lot more attractive at least in a literal sense. The Tesla (gotta love the name), by Telsa Motors, appears to be the Holy Grail of electric cars. It is beautiful (built on a modified Lotus Elise chassis), and it is fast (zero to sixty in an amazing 4.4 seconds). Not only that, but it is an entirely gas-free car as well. 6800 lithium Ion batteries give it enough juice to go 250 miles before needing another charge. The battery pack is charged on a plug hardwired into your garage, and recharging to full takes only about 3.5 hours. Even if all the energy used in the car is generated by a coal power plant, the pollution per mile cost is still incredibly low compared to gasoline. What is not to love? The price. At more than $100k, this car is out of reach for all but the most dedicated Greenies. Fortunately, Telsa Motors has plans to build a more modest electric car in the near future.
There are, of course, many reasons to think that both of these new cars will not make it. There is always somebody standing around looking for a way to kill an idea that defies the status quo (especially when the status quo makes billions for The Monkey's Butt and his ilk). However, there is going to have to come a time when we get off oil, and it really should be sooner rather than later. When we do, I would just hope that my new car will be something more like the Tesla and less like the GX.

Monday, April 02, 2007

8th Grade Aggravation

Last week I was practicing my quelling looks. We had an assembly, and instead of getting to sit with my nice, sweet, bidable 7th graders, I got stuck with the ever-so-charming (not!) 8th graders. Granted, there were hundreds of well-behaved souls just watching the show, but those who stick out in my mind are the nasty ones. This was a talent show, so it meant lots of kids getting up in front of their peers and doing their best. To me, that seems pretty courageous, so I get VERY annoyed when the audience is less than kind. My main tactic is to stare, unblinking, down the row of kids at the offender. Usually this is all it takes. However, some kids seem to have very short memories. I am generally considered to be a hard ass, and that image is just fine with me.

The performances were a decidedly mixed bag. Lots of modern dance, some comedy, a marital arts demonstration, classical piano, and some old-school rock groups. We even had one ballerina in a full tutu costume. Two girls sang pop songs, and while the songs themselves were not to my taste, the girls had surprisingly good voices. Perhaps the cutest piece was the sound effects kid. He also performed last year, and the response from the audience was very positive. He did a squeaky door, a bunch of animals sounds, and a vacuum, and the audience went wild for him. It's nice to see a kid who is not part of the popular crowd get some good attention. On the whole it was a good show, and the audience was mostly well-behaved. Still, I will do my very best to be seated with 7th graders next time.